Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on T Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on Twitter, Angel List, LinkedIn.
Bangkok-based Ardent Capital, an early-stage investment and incubation firm, has landed undisclosed funding from investors in Japan and the US as it accelerates its plans to build e-commerce-focused companies for Southeast Asia.
The round includes participation from Santa Monica-based Siemer Ventures, Recruit Strategic Partners (a Silicon Valley-based subsidiary of Japan’s Recruit) and GMO Venture Partners from Japan. Ardent’s management team also contributed to the round.
Ardent is particularly notable for its experience, which is quite unlike any investment firm in Thailand, let alone other parts of Southeast Asia. Founding members Paul Srivorakul, John Srivorakul, Tom Srivorakul and Piers Bennett have built companies on a regional scale and have three exits under their belt: NewMedia Edge was sold to STW Group, LivingSocial bought Ensogo and Admax was acquired by Komli. Adrian Vanzyl, who joined as co-founder in 2012, brings complementary experience from the US, where he served at investment firm Blumberg Capital, oversaw two IPOs and spent time working at Microsoft, among other things.
Ardent’s business is two-sided, the company invests in existing startups and also incubates and launches companies too. Its portfolio of more than 10 includes tech blog E27, marketing firm Syndacast and gamification startup Playbasis.
“The money that’s come in will help us to invest in great entrepreneurs when we find them,” Vanzyl tells TNW.
Strategic deal for Ardent startups
In addition to raising fresh capital, the deal is very much strategic for Ardent and its portfolio. Vanzyl explains that the new investors will maintain an ongoing relationship with its startups.
“It’s a strategic investment for them — they have businesses and relationships in Japan that are relevant to us — they have lots of money so it’s a good next step for our portfolio companies because fundraising out here [in Southeast Asia] is very difficult still. Our portfolio companies form a long-term investment with these investors long before they need to fundraise so when they need to raise funds there is already knowledge, a relationship, understanding, etc to make that whole process much easier.”
Only half a dozen funds in Singapore can do a “decent” Series A round, Vanzyl adds: “That’s not a lot so we aim to solved that problem by having deep strategic relationships with these guys.”
Selecting Thailand as a base in Southeast Asia
Singapore has traditionally been the location of choice for most investors and, while Ardent is registered in Hong Kong, Bangkok remains its home. That’s irrespective of cultural and personal ties that Ardent’s founders maintain there — the Srivorakul brothers are American-Thai — Vanzyl says the firm is “very deliberately” located there because “it is the best first market to go into to prove things and then go and expand beyond”.
Explaining the theory, he argues that Singapore is barely an emerging market given its affluence and standard of living, so success there doesn’t show an idea can scale elsewhere. Likewise Indonesia — though the largest country in the region — he argues, is a “very tough” market to succeed in.
“When you ask yourself what market is challenging, with decent local logistics and infrastructure and a consumer market, but not so challenging that my chances of failure are high?” he says, “Thailand comes top.”
Ardent has expanded its Bangkok-based staff to 40 but it has more plans to increase that number — most of the 70 openings on its website are for Bangkok-based jobs. Vanzyl explains that, for all of the benefits of Thailand, locating the right talent is difficult and he would happily close all the openings tomorrow if the right people (not necessarily all Thai) applied.
Solving difficult problems
Ardent founders are perhaps among the most seasoned and successful in Thailand’s history, and they certainly rank highly when considering Southeast Asia as a whole. The business model that the firm is pursuing is an interesting one that feeds into its ambition to build into new, green-field markets.
“The only time we make a dollar is when we sell a business,” Vanzyl says, explaining that Ardent changes no fees whatsoever to its porfolio companies. “If that’s how your business model works, we damn well better build stuff that someone wants to buy and someone will pay a lot of money for. To that, you have to solved a difficult problem which is why we want to start in Thailand and go from there.”
The firm closed a significant deal in December 2012 when Dialog Axiata PLC, Sri Lanka’s biggest telecoms firm, forked out $1.6 million for 26 percent of Ardent-backed deals site Anything.lk. The founders are hoping that is the first of many deals for the company’s portfolio.
Related: Why Southeast Asia is the world’s most exciting region for startups and tech in 2013
Headline image via Thinkstock
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